Identifying and addressing high working pressure

How can supervisors identify high work pressure in their team or department? Everybody deals with stress differently. As supervisor, you should pay extra attention to somebody when you notice that their behaviour has changed. There are signs that may indicate severe stress, and this could provide grounds for discussion.


Use the checklist below to identify work pressure. Work together to determine whether work stress is actually involved and the person is:

  • Experiencing physical complaints, or tiredness, or is not sleeping well
  • Irritable/in a bad mood
  • Forgetful/prone to making mistakes/having trouble concentrating
  • Regularly late or absent
  • Having difficulty with changes to the work or schedule
  • Complaining a lot or making cynical remarks
  • Working more slowly than usual; is unable to finish anything
  • Working too many hours a day on a regular basis
  • Lacking focus; skipping from one thing to another
  • Detached or withdrawn

Some people have character traits that can make them sensitive to experiencing high work pressure such as people who:

  • Have a strong sense of responsibility
  • Always want to be in control
  • Are self-sacrificing
  • Are very loyal
  • Have a sense of duty
  • Are unable/unwilling/afraid to say ‘No’

Other people may have character traits that ensure that they can handle the pressure well, such as those who:

  • Are satisfied more readily; are able to accept imperfection
  • Think about themselves
  • Have the ability to let go
  • Have the ability to set their own limits
  • Have the ability to put things into perspective
  • Have the ability to enjoy themselves
  • Have the ability to remain calm

Handling work pressure in your team

The Workload Chart is a dialogue tool for encouraging discussion about work pressure within teams and resolving it. It encourages staff members to work with their team to manage work pressure. It helps to find the common thread of where and when work pressure is experienced and to talk to each other about how work pressure can be reduced.

Requesting a Workload Chart

If you feel that your team could benefit from using this tool, or you have any questions about the Workload Chart’s content or instructions, please send an email to HR-ontwikkeling [at] (HR-ontwikkeling[at]ru[dot]nl) and request the Workload Chart.

Discussing high work pressure with a staff member

If you have noticed that a staff member is affected by work pressure, take the initiative to talk to them sooner rather than later. Here are a number of tips for this type of discussion:

  • Have the discussion in a closed-off room;
  • Make sure that you are well prepared for the discussion;
  • Specify exactly which signals you have noticed (by citing specific examples), describe how you perceived them, and ask whether the staff member also recognises the signals;
  • Voice your concerns. Explain that the discussion is not an evaluation of their work;
  • Ask about the source of the stress, its primary cause, and how long the staff member has been affected by it;
  • Ask in-depth questions, and ask the staff member to cite concrete examples/situations;
  • Ask open-ended questions, and make sure that they are neutral, engaging, and brief;
  • Check to see whether things are improving for the staff member: Which things are still going well? Which aspects of their work are still providing job satisfaction?
  • Summarise and define the problem area (what is the main issue) and suggest that you sit down together to look at how things can be done differently;
  • Check to see what the staff member has already done to reduce the stress themselves (ask in-depth questions);
  • Work together to find potential specific solutions. Let the staff member figure out as many solutions as they can, ones over which they will personally have the most influence. Ask what you can do to help. Try to achieve specific changes;
  • Don’t diagnose the situation: continue to play the part of the supervisor.

If the situation requires further investigation, please consult the personnel advisor and/or the Occupational Health Officer.